I have never been more confused about my relationship to speaking. I don’t mean public speaking, I mean just speaking at all. And right when I think I can identify the state of being that makes me unable to speak I realize the opposite has the same effect.

As a very sensitive person I often need the world around me to be safe, quiet and dependable. When that gets threatened I can regress into an almost pre-verbal state. From this place I have a kind of fear of disintegration. The words I have from this place, at best, form complaints: barely grown-up versions of a baby’s cry. I have learned that “venting” from this place has limited benefits. And at a physical level it feels almost physically painful (in my chest and stomach) to speak. I struggle to grasp complex processes and concepts when I’m here. I can empathize on a basic level to things like: sad, mad, glad, etc. (It’s interesting to see from this place how I am still half useful at my job precisely because it forces me out of my intellect and keeps me out of my clients’ intellects.)

But even when I have created peace and safety for myself, when I feel the warm glow of love for myself and the world…well that too makes me prefer silence. Here it does not hurt to speak so much as that it is an inherently quiet place. Here my words threaten to ruin the peace. Funnily enough this place feels almost post-verbal. Like I have temporarily transcended words and entered a kind of subtly euphoric and spiritual state. I have a warm glow in the way a flower or tree does. I can listen and understand well (almost limitless input) but have very little verbal output. The output I have here is in my eyes and my presence. I enjoy being here very much though but it is a difficult thing to explain to others.

And then there are the “regular” days when I’m neither especially scared nor especially happy. From there I can speak but I find most of what I have to say boring. I truly bore myself with my own words and frequently stop myself mid-sentence.

Even when I remove all of my self-judgment from what I’m saying here, one of the things that all of these states share in common is that they all make it hard to function in the social world. Yesterday I was accused of doing something at my office for a second time (a small thing), and though I was innocent on both occasions I watched with a slight resentment as the other blathered on. I didn’t defend myself or apologize. I was neither kind nor mean. I just watched it happen as though it were happening to someone on another planet. I remember asking myself, “Do I care what this person thinks of me?” And in that moment that honest answer was that I didn’t. I just wanted to be left alone so I responded with the answer that would get me left alone, “Yes. I won’t use that anymore.” Satisfied, she walked away and I felt relieved that the interaction was short.

On a dating platform a person asked me what I was up to last night. In this instance I could tell they weren’t fishing for a spontaneous date, they really were just asking. I couldn’t answer their question. I suppose I should have said, “I’m curling up in bed with a movie after a long day. What are you up to?” But even typing that here I feel a small amount of self-hatred. So those basic things…normal things that allow people to get to know one another, are things I can’t generally get myself to do. I have abandoned dozens and dozens of online dating conversations because it felt too overwhelming to answer a basic question. It’s not the exception, it’s the rule.

Yesterday as I sat in my office I fantasized about being left alone all day to stare out the window quietly. I wanted to sleepily stare out the window at the trees and just watch the birds. I wanted it so bad that it hurt. I felt an actual broken heart at the idea that what my heart yearned for was at odds with what I needed to do to survive.

Probably somewhere deep inside is a desire to get some basic needs met. Needs which I am so practiced at not getting met that I forget they exist. A desire for touch, understanding, loving gazes, etc. But even as I write this they sound like abstract concepts or like fleeting lies.

The best way to sum it up is that, I’m in a lonely place and it’s painful to be this lonely. But the idea of connection sounds even more painful somehow. Or if not painful then at least very confusing. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to function and yet I do. Client after client. Errand after errand. Bill after bill. Task after task. I push through the way that a sickly old predator still has to go through with the hunt: sheer survival instinct. I am running out of money and need more clients but I can barely work with the clients I have.

Eventually the predator lies down in the warm sun and stops hunting knowing that it has nothing left. I wait for that day/month/year as well.

My love lives in the distance between us

In the memories that I edit and expand

Abbreviate and delete

I will never know how you see me

When a Monday morning fog rolls in

Or when I come home with a depleted heart

We are lonely children playing a game

To one another we are symbols

And so you see, my love

I am not your love

And you are not mine

And somehow I feel less alone

Kneeling in the truth

Of this painful aloneness

Than I ever could

Imagining myself in your arms

I will gently place your photo

Where it belongs

In a cupboard or a drawer

As a distant memory and nothing more

I am besotted and haunted by The Mundane. As I drink my wonderfully mediocre cup of morning coffee, I look at images of paintings online. I am inevitably drawn to those that depict things and people in their “Everydayness”: a forlorn servant carrying a tray; a forgotten overly ripe piece of fruit. I am pulled by that which evokes the loneliness and ennui of everyday life.

I am often alone (though not always lonely) and I find solace–and even joy–in noticing what others might overlook. I take delight in clocking the minutiae that make things and people unique. Give me enough time (and an open heart) and I will locate the grace in almost anyone.

It is my duty–and, perhaps, survival necessity–to embrace and celebrate the mundanity of life. When I do so I find peace. When I do so boredom disintegrates. When I succeed in singing its praises a transformation happens: The Mundane becomes Sublime. No, that is not correct. It is not the external that transforms–I am the thing that transforms.

The obvious natural beauty of the world does not need me to sing is praises. It sings its own. And it has has countless devotees: a universal choir. But the old stapler on my desk—who will celebrate it if not me? I see where the dust gathers and how it clears up at the highest point where my hand strikes. I have an intimate relationship with this object. I touch it. I touch it more than I touch humans. Disproportionately sized noses, unkempt hair, beat up cars hanging on by a thread, ugly parking lots: they need me. And I need them.

I begin in a small dark room. Eyes clenched shut. Heart full of fear and loneliness. Arms flailing. Legs kicking. My efforts are quixotic. I exhaustedly give in.

I relax my limbs. Slowly open my eyes. Soften my focus. I am alone in a bright yellow field. The loneliness becomes solitude. The fear turns to melancholy.

Here I can love like a ghost—quietly and unseen. I can haunt the world with my love and presence. I can send my warmth through a gentle breeze.

Here I am fearless. Nothing is needed. Nothing is owned. So nothing can be lost.

Here I can be.

Last night I witnessed the unbridled expression of a deep and soulful anger. It was raw and yet somehow tethered. I observed the beauty and power of it. I watched it with respect and awe.

I love her very much. Her kindness. Her sensitivity. Her lisp (that she is so ashamed of). She worries about her weight and carries the belief that she is the least intelligent one in her PhD cohort. I wanted so badly to point out the ways that she is such a lovely and brilliant human being but also knew that it would do nothing to help her. I sensed that what she needed was to feel the anger about the experiences and people who convinced her that she is unattractive and stupid. About a world that automatically assumes that a woman of color with an accent and a lisp is less than her white counterparts.

So instead of telling her that she was wonderful I looked at her and asked, “Where does all the anger go?” She looked at me, slightly taken aback by my question and then settled back into herself. It was as though she was jarred by what may have seemed like a provocative non sequitur and then quickly settled back in by placing her trust in me and in our history together. “I don’t know. I’m trying my hardest to find the anger and I can’t. I don’t think I feel anger.” She looked as if she had failed me by not being able to find it. I looked at her and said, “It’s okay that you can’t find it. I’ll hold it for you until you can, okay?” She nodded tearfully.

She entered the room last night her typically friendly self. Walking around the new office and expressing interest in the books (many of which she has read for school). Within minutes of sitting back down she began to cry. She told me that she felt like she was going crazy. She described a work load that would make packing mule buckle. She said she had the first panic attack of her life; that she is worried she is going crazy. I explained to her that I couldn’t do one-half of what she had described; that she may feel crazy but that the craziness resides in her situation and in her advisor. That was all it took…

She raised her voice and cursed for the first time. She pointed out the ways that she is expected to carry an extra workload as a bilingual woman of color and the lack of appreciation from her white professors. She yelled about the hypocrisy of “diversity”; the way that institutions believe they have done their job by hiring or accepting into their midst people of color without actually supporting them once they are there. She cursed her advisor for lacking empathy and humanity.

I asked her if she had any feelings about me canceling her last week when she was in the thick of this. She nodded. “Yes, I was irritated. I was looking at the session as a lifeline and it was the first time you failed me.” I nodded and told her that I would be pissed at me too. She reassured me that she understood; that it was merely an emotional reaction. I explained to her that I welcomed her anger and that she didn’t need to reassure me.

Though I’m sure there is a recency bias when I say this, I don’t believe I have ever seen someone vent so much anger while also staying so grounded. In that moment I saw her in her full glory. So much life force. So much soul. I gave her a wide berth of space while staying present. Afterward we explored how it was for her to do so and how it was for me to witness it. Then she was ready for an action plan.

There are moments with my clients where I am both pleased and perplexed at how they can outgrow me so quickly. What I witnessed was a person well on their way to knowing how to express and contain their anger; to knowing how to use the energy in it to create change. And if I am honest, the person who helped her get there (me) is now well behind her in that arena.

I know my strengths and weaknesses as a clinician. For the most part I don’t get too high or low about that (my clinical self is much better resourced than my day-to-day self). I don’t know what “theory” my interventions came from. Interpersonal? Psychodynamic? CBT? I honestly don’t know and it’s not far from the truth to say I don’t give a fuck. I just know that what I did was grounded in love and appreciation. And that, combined with a person who is open to receiving it, is what made whatever I did helpful.

A fellow clinician just sent me an email. They want to know how I work and what my theory is and what my specialties are so that they know who to refer to me. These are perfectly legitimate things to want to know. But I can’t respond right now. I have to wait. Because all I want to say right now is, “I don’t fucking know. I do my best to love my clients. Sometimes I do really well at that and sometimes I don’t. I’m not sure who I want to work with. It’s a feeling I get when I hear them on the phone or meet them. I know you, as an intern, probably don’t want to hear this but fifteen years into my career these sorts of questions bore me. I think they are good questions. You aren’t doing anything wrong by asking them. But they sound exhausting to answer. This work takes so much out of me that I don’t want to think about it academically anymore. I just want to occasionally clock my tiny victories, not think too much about my failures and get home.”

At times I feel so young that I fear I cannot walk through the world with poise. In those moments I preserve my dignity by removing myself so that my puckered mouth and eager eyes will not be witnessed. With blinds drawn I sob and, with this release, age just enough to function.

I will get through today. I will survive. Perhaps even help someone (I hope). I will peel myself off the ground and support six other adults (none of whom will know that I woke up an infant). I will buy groceries in the half-hour before the supermarket closes. I will come home and heat up a pre-prepared dinner before dragging myself to bed. And if I’m lucky–if I manage to do everything I am saying–I will rest without shame and with my dignity and pride intact.

When I placed your photo on my shelf last week I was full of doubt: I wondered whether it would feel good or whether it would hurt.

A little over a week in I can say that I only say greet you when I’m full. When I am empty and lonely I don’t stay engaged with you. When my heart is big I send you a quiet hello. I don’t linger or wait for a response.

I do not use your photo to feel happy or sad. I do not pick it up to idealize or to fantasize. It is not an altar. Perhaps I have grown weary of haunting ghosts with my loneliness; or perhaps they have grown weary of me.

I look at the photo now only to make sure I am being honest with myself. I see someone imperfect and beautiful. I see someone who broke my heart and also filled my life with love. I feel love and respect.

If I were to share this with you would tell me it was unnecessary. You gave me your blessing and called it “sweet” that I printed the photo. You trusted me. My way of honoring that trust (even though you are not asking for anything) is to not use your photo. And if I do so I will only use it as a barometer: a way of seeing where I am in relation to my heart.

I am sad and lonely right now. But there is nothing in this photo that can make that any better or worse. I place it back on the shelf and quietly make my lunch.